Matt Micuccichecks out 2 of the Irish films that screened as part of the 58th Cork Film Festival – Maurice O’Callaghan’s The Lord’s Burning Rain and Michelle Deignan’s Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre.
The Lord’s Burning Rain (Maurice O’Callaghan)
Modern independent Irish cinema just keeps shining, and Maurice O’Callaghan’s latest film is one of its most challenging and meditative entries. Shot in a rough and rugged guerrilla filmmaking style, The Lord’s Burning Rain is about the journey of a 16-year-old boy as he rides the new family horse to his house on his own.
During the journey, the young male experiences a series of encounters that help him uncover a side of his father and his struggles for Irish independence he was not aware of.
Far from the comfort zone of the vast majority of films that have dealt with the subject in the past, O’Callaghan’s film is quite demanding and many will find its art-house energy alienating. Nevertheless, anyone willing to let themselves be taken by the film’s poignancy and melancholia – as well as the deeply personal nature of the filmmaker’s vision, will find it quite a unique, poetic and exceptionally gratifying experience.
Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre (Michelle Deignan)
A feminist documentary made with an all-female crew, Breaking Ground is a documentary about the London Irish Women’s Centre, which was founded in the early eighties to represent and support generations of Irish women in London. Despite hints at radicalism, Michelle Deignan’s film is far from being a sort of aggressive manifesto.
Breaking Ground comes across as warm and soft-spoken. Deignan interviews the people who were actively involved in the group and makes full use of the primary source archive footage to offer great intimate insight that helps highlight the importance of such support groups and their effect on society.
As a documentary, it doesn’t come across as the kind of powerful work that takes a stance and it’s highly unlikely that it will start any type of revolt – but then again, that is not the kind of film it wants to be.
Breaking Ground feels more like a simple and sincere tribute to the ordinary people of any kind who rise up against discrimination and represent solidarity by having an impact on their community through kindness, harmony and tolerance.
Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre is a feature-length documentary that reveals the story of the radical organisation founded in the early ’80s by women in order to represent and support generations of Irish women in London. The story of the Irish in England has always very much been the story of Irish men in England, but Breaking Ground documents a little known history of Irish women’s success story and records the history of Irish feminism in London.
The film’s director Michelle Deignan recalls how the project initially came about when “back in November 2011 I was asked to exhibit a short film of mine, Red Cheeks, in an exhibition at the London Irish Women’s Centre. In this film an actress reports anecdotes about me as an Irish artist and filmmaker in London, within the context of a tour of three Irish spaces there, including the London Irish Women’s Centre. After seeing Red Cheeks in the exhibition Claire Barry, the Centre’s director, asked me if I’d write a proposal to make a documentary on its history. I was really surprised not least because it was the first time I’d been asked to pitch for a documentary project. I thought, what a great opportunity to make a funded film about Irish women in London, a subject that other films of mine had addressed but in completely different ways. So I went ahead and wrote a detailed proposal, which Claire later told me blew her away. She also told me that when she saw Red Cheeks in the exhibition at the Centre she hadn’t a clue what it was about but thought it looked very professional and it was on that basis only she asked me to pitch for the documentary!”
It comes through clearly in the film that the wave of Irish women emigrating during the ’80s was very much on a proactive level as London seemed to offer Irish women an opportunity to break free from certain restraints – economic, political and cultural – in Ireland. According to Michelle, “Irish women are more migratory than Irish men, which indicates that women have more reasons to leave Ireland.” The documentary tells us that in the ’80s Irish women made up 10% of the female population. Michelle continues, “For some of these women 1980s London, though not without its hardships, was a place to escape from the repression of the male dominated Irish state, religion and culture. It was this generation of women who began the London Irish Women’s Centre.”
The documentary provides a real insight into how the Centre functioned as an alternative to the traditional notion, and way of life, of the Irish in London. “The aim of the centre was to meet the needs of a diverse range of Irish women who didn’t necessarily conform to the established order of what either Irish or British institutions perceived were legitimate expressions of Irish womanhood,” Michelle explains. “At the Centre all versions of being an Irish woman were possible. It’s also important to mention that first, second and third generation Irish women used the resource. Originally it was a feminist collective, a practical resource to help Irish women live their daily lives, as well as a space within which to question notions of cultural and gender identity. Brid Boland, one of the original workers at the Centre, points out in the film that is was important to them that Irish women would aim to integrate with all parts of British society reaching beyond the confines of an Irish only community.”
One of the strengths of the film alongside the interviews from leading members is the great array of archive footage, which brings so much of the history to life. “The archive footage and photographs in the film are from a huge number of sources,” says Michelle. ” The London Irish Women’s Centre supported a group called Video na mBan, who recorded many events and interviewed many guests and users of the centre. Most of that footage has been long dispersed but there was one cupboard left full of U-matic tapes. These turned out to be footage from 1987/88, mostly of the Irish Women’s Conferences that the Centre had organised over a five-year period in London. This was the archive we started with and it gave us some fantastic clips. Many of the women we went on to interview are featured in these.
“The Centre did a lot of self publishing in the form of reports and newsletters and they astutely had a lot of their events documented by professional photographers. Most of the black and white photographs in the film were taken by Joanne O’ Brien and Sass Tuffin, who had both been employed by the Centre to document events at different times. Colour photographs were from the personal collections of some of the interviewees and others we found in the the Centre’s archive. We also used some fabulous archive from Anna Liebschners’ short film A Free Country’(1983), about the Prevention of Terrorism Act and how if effects the Irish community in the UK.”
Ultimately, the Centre functioned as a space for Irish women and as a vital source of support that could provide for their needs and also take up the challenge to agitate for change. “Angie Birtill – one of the women who worked at the centre – made a great point that women were supported and encouraged to not be victims but to do something about what they wanted to change. In a space where all opinions could be expressed and all grievances could be aired, opinions were shared and support groups for various different causes were formed. This was collective power in action. Women were coming to the centre and galvanising support for many causes from protests about the strip searching of prisoners to reproductive rights campaigns. It’s inspiring stuff.”
Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre screens on Sunday, 10th November 2013 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
The film will be followed by a Q&A with the London-based director Michelle Deignan.
Tickets for Breaking Ground: the Story of the London Irish Women’s Centreare available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie
Breaking Ground – The Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre
11th November, 19:00
Gate Cinema Tickets € 9.00 63 Minutes
The documentary, Breaking Ground – The Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre, will be screened alongside the short Muriel Matters in a double bill event at the 58th Cork Film Festival.
The film surrounds a group of inspirational Irish women living in London who formed the radical organisation in the 80’s. It will be screened along with the short film, Muriel Matters, that documents the influential Australian woman of the title who fought for women’s suffrage in the early 1900’s.
Michelle Deignan, the director of Breaking Ground, spoke to Film Ireland. ‘It’s very significant for Breaking Ground to be screened at Cork International Film Festival, the most established of the film festivals in Ireland. I have always regarded it as an innovative and eclectic festival that is very supportive of Irish film, particularly films that look at alternative subject matter. I am looking forward to seeing the two films in the same context, films that in very different ways look at the representation of women’s political history. It seems a very apt curatorial decision on the part of the festival programmers’.
Deignan’s documentary was made by and all-female crew and tracks the organisation over its 29 year history. The London Irish Women’s Centre was formed when against a backdrop of social and gender divisions and anti-Irish sentiments when Irish women made up 10% of London’s female population. The footage cuts never seen before archive material with interviews with the women that made it all happen.